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Modi’s Gujarat

Modi’s Gujarat

BJP is expected to win the assembly elections in Gujarat. It doesn’t take an opinion poll or anything close to psephology to predict this. After being governed by Congress almost continuously, since inception till 1989, the state had shown a distinct preference for BJP from 1995. This was years before Narendra Modi was appointed Chief Minister.

The good administration that BJP promised never happened and Patel was replaced with Modi in October 2001. But even he hardly succeeded in good governance. Months later, Ram Sewaks were burnt alive in a train in Godhra by a ‘Muslim mob’. The political discourse in the state has changed since then. Gujarat that voted on caste lines overlooked it and issues of governance thence. Elections became a time for the majority to demonstrate ‘Hindus were united’ against ‘marauding Muslims’.

The BJP has been able to successfully paint the Congress as the ‘party of Muslims’, or worse, of ‘saboteurs and anti-nationals’. What Modi used to repeat at assembly election meetings in 2002 and 2007 have been picked up by several news channels that broadcast in Gujarati, Hindi and English since the start of this decade.

While the business folks and upwardly mobile gave a garb of development to Modi to hide their religious bias during voting, the basic issue has remained ‘Hindu awakening’, ‘Hindu pride’, ‘Hindu security’ for those who voted for Modi and BJP in Gujarat till now and for most of those who voted for them in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

There is no doubt that this narrative is changing. But it is not changing at the pace that the Congress, liberal folks or those who have understood BJP’s and Modi’s games want. Demonetisation and implementation of a half-baked Goods and Services Tax have hit the business sentiment hard. Caste leaders Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mewani have been able to attract quite a following. Rahul Gandhi seems to have finally learned to follow political directives of veterans in his party and alliances that were hard to come seem to be happening for the Congress.

However, all this are unlikely to be sufficient for the Congress to wrest Gujarat after 22 years. The emotional connect Modi has with the state and that he is in power at the Centre and in a position to do several things to turn the tide in favour of his party are hurdles the Congress will find hard to cross. The results are almost 50 days away when I write this but my hunch is that the BJP will return to power in Gujarat without too much of a struggle.

Easy Greasy

Sentiment means a lot in driving business and the stock market. That is why the Government and the media seem to be whipping up a frenzy based on a World Bank report. The report on the ease of doing business has moved India 30 places to spot number 100.

New Zealand is number one in the list of countries where it is easiest to do business. But we know not many would be interested in going to New Zealand to do business because sheep can’t buy goods.

The study was done prior to implementation of GST. The fact of the matter is that despite all the greasing of palms that need to be done to start a business in India even today, there is a high chance of the business succeeding for those who have deep pockets because of the sheer number of Indians with purchasing power.

It can be safely said that the number of middle class who have purchasing power in India exceeds the total population of United States. This means those who want to sell anything from burgers and chocolates to clothes or electronic gadgets have a huge market in India. While the ease of doing business is about how difficult it is to secure all the sanctions to start a business in India, the smart ones know that greasing palms increases the ease and it is worthwhile to take the risk because the chances of success are huge. Hence there is no point in getting excited over India climbing 30 points up.

The question is whether the Government is facilitating the takeover of each and every business by Indians and foreign entities that have huge reserves of capital. Are small traders and peripheral businessmen and women finding it increasingly difficult to continue to do business in India?

The feedback I have got from several such people suggests that demonetisation and sloppy implementation of GST — the big two measures the Government of India has taken in the last one year and over which the PM gloats so often — are forcing small and medium businesses to shut shop.

India’s rank number 100 in ease of doing business to them is just like the ranking of the Indian football team. After occupying the 97th spot months ago, it is in 107th spot. Unless India can be a potential world cup qualifier, it will not matter to fans. Similarly, how easy it is for small and medium businesses to survive and flourish matters, not the rank on the index.

Bamiyan Buddha

A young Swiss couple was beaten by a mob in UP’s Fatehpur Sikri recently. Mob members, several of them boys, apparently wanted to click ‘selfies’ with the woman. This happened on the day when Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath swept one of the entrance roads to the Taj Mahal, after his derogatory references about the monument.

Tourism Minister K J Alphons wrote to Adityanath on the attack. No one knows if the letter was written in English and hence discarded by the CM. What we know is that Alphons offered the couple, admitted in a government hospital, two nights stay at Government-run ITDC hotel in Delhi.

That may seem like a good idea, except that it could end up as another form of torture. Whoever has stayed in a ITDC hotel should know how ‘sarkari’ services are and chances of spotting cockroaches in the room. Could that be why Alphons was miserly in restricting the hospitality to two days while showing his “token of concern”? Those who attack tourists and want the Taj Mahal to be demolished may not be aware their mentality is exactly like those who destroyed the Buddha statues in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan. Indian Talibans are not something that would attract tourists.

Tailpiece

Here’s a question to politicians who have highlighted ‘differences’ Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru had during their decades of association: If you cannot point out differences between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, how democratic is the relationship?

( abey.kay@gmail.com)

(Published on 06th November 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 45)